Our industry has come together in the face of unprecedented challenges to protect our workers, courses, sports fields, jobs, and the people we serve. So many of you have made quick changes and adjustments to create safer environments and we are proud of the hustle and innovation of our Tennessee turfgrass professionals. Take a look at how we’ve adapted to keep our state’s turfgrass managers working and successful.
Q: What adjustments have you made to operations during this time?
A: We have cut out all overtime and people that can work remotely have been asked to do so until further notice.
Q: What safety measures are you taking to protect yourself, your staff, and others who use your fields and facilities?
A: We have to wear a face covering at all times when on campus unless we are in our private office. We have increased the number of hand sanitizer stations throughout campus. We have also purchased and distributed multiple style masks to all employees.
Q: What advice/encouragement do you have for TTA members in this challenging time?
A: Do whatever you can to remain essential. I am doing things a turf manager would not normally do (removed 364 bikes on campus, doing inventory of items students left behind, etc.). If a layoff is coming, I would hope they see value in an employee who is multi-faceted and can/will do tasks that may not be associated with everyday maintenance but are necessary to get through tough times.
Below, Left: Masks are required (Anthony Lewis). Below, Right: Floor stickers.
I certainly have been proud of what I’ve seen both from an advocacy standpoint in defining our work as essential to staffs taking a leadership role in implementing distancing procedures to facilitate operations remaining open.
The joint letter to Gov. Bill Lee’s office that was spearheaded by TTA helped ensure maintenance operations, particularly on golf courses, were declared essential such that work could continue during the stay-at-home order. The association showed real leadership in submitting a single document signed by TTA, TGA, TGF, Tenn PGA, and TVSTMA. This is one reason that supporting an association like TTA is so important.
From a university standpoint, the first major change was obviously moving all classes online. UT mobilized this process fairly rapidly and while I’m sure there were a few bumps in the road, the process was successful from what I’ve heard/seen.
Like many of the other turfgrass operations in the state, we have been tasked with becoming more intentional with scheduling work at our research farm in order to keep social distancing a priority. This has taken a little while to get accustomed to but all of our turfgrass research programs are moving forward normally.
Probably the biggest hurdle the turfgrass program faced in light of COVID was how to handle our annual Field Day event in August. With UT facilities being closed to the public and restrictions in place (both on campus and in Knox County) on large gatherings, we needed to decide how to move forward in providing continuing education and networking opportunities for those in the turfgrass industry this year. We landed on the concept of TN Turf Tuesdays, a series of online webinars hosted on the first Tuesday of every month from May-October 2020. You can learn more about that initiative here: www.tennesseeturfgrassweeds.org/Pages/TurfTuesday.aspx.
This has been a fun endeavor for our team and something that we think we can build on for the future.
One thing that was communicated to me earlier this year is that regardless of how one feels about the COVID situation, it’s the biggest challenge that all of us will face in our careers. I think it’s important to recognize that! We may see continued maintenance as “doing what we’ve always done,” but getting those simple things done under such trying times are little victories that shouldn’t be taken for granted. We are not only navigating a rapidly changing landscape about what’s acceptable from a safety standpoint but also helping our teams navigate through stress/mental health challenges (both at work and in some cases at home) that are unprecedented.
Below, Left: Many facilities are checking employee temperatures at the beginning of work shifts. Below, Right: In most cases rakes have been removed from bunkers to eliminate possible contamination issues.
Below, Left: To prevent handling the flagstick many courses are using various methods to allow easy ball retrieval from the cup. Below, Right: Coolers are not being on course / Ball washers have been taken in as well.
Tellico Village is a retirement community with 9,000 residents, with a large number of those residents being avid or sporadic golfers. When COVID-19 hit Tennessee, Tellico Village understood that the community’s entire population was considered “at risk.”
After assuming the role of Director of Golf in January of this year, Chris Sykes knew he would have to find the right balance between legislation and doing what’s best for his staff and the community. “We had to take a careful, cautious approach while weighing local, state and CDC guidelines,” Chris said. “No one had a pandemic playbook, but now we do.”
Like many other courses, Tellico Village implemented many new procedures: increased signage encouraging social distancing and handwashing; golf shop closed; single rider carts; removing touch points from the course which included pencils and scorecards; disinfecting carts between users; sanitizing range balls and baskets; removing rakes and ball washers and other changes.
Chris says the network of golf course professionals that he collaborated with to make these changes was essential to staying informed and prepared for changes that often came hourly. Getting hit with a pandemic within months of accepting an operations role has surely been trial-by-fire, but Chris says, “The industry really came together. It’s a great, tight network and we all learn from each other.”
As of early June, Tellico Village is slowly and thoughtfully returning to some pre-COVID practices, and with their phased approach, are prepared to make adjustments in any direction going forward. However, one thing hasn’t changed – golfers are going to golf. “We actually stayed very busy throughout this time, and overall our members were very positive about the changes we made. They were just so happy to be out here,” Chris shared.
Below, Left: Increased signage. Below, Right: Sanitized and bagged range balls.
Below, Left: Golf cart partition. Below, Right: Barrier installed at golf shop counter.